Using mobile phones abroad Tips for making cheap calls abroad

Whether you're taking your mobile phone abroad every few weeks, or just once or twice a year, there are easy ways to save on international phone calls.

Before making a roaming mobile phone call

It sounds obvious, but work out what you need to say first. It's usually cheaper (typically 10-40p) to send a roaming text than to make a one-minute mobile roaming call, but it may take several texts to explain what could be cleared up by a quick call.

You can save money by using pay phones to make local phone calls and buying an international calling card for calls back to the UK.


Pay to recieve calls on you mobile abroad

Picking up voicemail messages abroad will cost as much as calling the UK

If you don't need to use your mobile abroad, set your phone to divert incoming calls to voicemail. If you don't do this, and a mobile call tries to connect to the foreign mobile network and diverts to voicemail because you fail to answer, you'll still have to pay as if you received the roaming call.

If possible, don't check your mobile voicemail until you get home. Listening to messages costs the same as making an international call to the UK.

If you need to stay in contact, deactivate any mobile voicemail diverts. You'll be able to see incoming mobile roaming calls and choose whether to answer but, as your voicemail won't be accessible, you won't be charged for someone leaving a voicemail message.

Frequent international travellers

For people who regularly use their mobile abroad, buying a mobile roaming add-on or roaming bundle can cut international call costs by 10% to 90%, depending on your destination and mobile phone network. Consider whether you'll make enough international calls on your mobile to justify the cost of the mobile roaming add-on.

Buying a local PAYG Sim

Using mobile broadband abroad

If you often work in another country, buy a PAYG Sim

If you spend a lot of time in a particular country, consider buying a local pay-as-you-go mobile Sim card. Local mobile calls will be much cheaper and you probably won't be charged when someone calls you (depending on that country's rules - check before you buy). International calls back to the UK will be charged at international rates for that country.

If you do buy an international Sim, you'll have a different mobile phone number, and may have to pay £10 to £20 to unlock your mobile for use with another provider's Sim. There are websites that let you unlock your mobile Sim free of charge (it's legal). Online retailers such as and UK2abroad sell Sim cards for most countries.

Frequent international travellers should consider mobile roaming costs when they choose a provider - Virgin, for example, is the cheapest of the six major UK mobile providers for roaming in the US and Canada. And Vodafone customers can sign up to its free Vodafone Passport add-on to get lower call rates in much of Europe, Australia and New Zealand.

Calling abroad

International landline calls are no longer prohibitively expensive, but when it comes to making international calls from your mobile it can still get very costly.

Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to save money on calling abroad.

Cheap international mobile calls with your provider

Most mobile service providers have some kind of cheap international tariff that can be bolted on to your existing contract.

Of course this will add an additional amount to your monthly bill, but if you regularly make international phone calls then you can easily offset those costs. Just think about how you'll be using your phone to make sure you don't end up paying for something you don't need. Bolt-ons like Vodafone's Data Traveller provide pay-as-you-go customers with 25MB of data for £2/day, but you may not need that much while you're on holiday (25MB is enough to send around 750 15-line emails).

To see which networks perform the best in our customer satisfaction survey, head over to our best mobile networks advice guide.

Cheap overseas calls specialist operators

Providers such as Lebara and Lycamobile have specialised in offering cheap international calls, specifically targeting the UK's immigrant population.

If you do make lots of calls abroad then Lebara or Lycamobile are worth considering, but these operators only offer basic Sim-only deals, and their plans for UK mobile phone usage are usually not as competitive as those offered by other operators.

In an effort to move into the cheap overseas calls market, O2 recently announced an 'International Favourites' plan, which gives you:

  • 3,000 minutes (50 hours) to three nominated international landline numbers for £10 per month.
  • 3,000 minutes (50 hours) to three nominated international landline numbers plus 200 minutes to five nominated international mobile numbers for £20 a month.

Both options also provide a 'Call me' phone number. 'Call me' gives International Favourites customers a local phone number in one of 42 countries that can be given to unlimited friends and family members in that country.

When contacts in that country call the local number, from either a landline or a mobile, it will connect to the O2 customer's UK mobile but will cost the caller no more than their standard local rate.  

If you make lots of international calls from your mobile, using International Favourites may work out cheaper than sticking to your mobile's standard overseas rate.

Cheap international mobile calls without your mobile provider

One of the best ways to make cheap international calls is by turning your international call into a local one using the internet to route your calls.

Rebtel is a good example of a website that does this. First you need to sign-up to their service and then add credit to your account with your debit or credit card.

Similarly, you can use a telephone discounter company like 18185. This can work out the same or less than your mobile operator, depending on the country you're phoning. So make the comparison between your provider and these numbers first.

Because both Rebtel and 18185 route your call via a local number, the international calls you make will be included in any free voice minute bundles you may have.  

Free International calls with Skype

Using Skype for international calls

Skype can be a cheap may of keeping in touch with friends and family abroad

You may be familiar with Skype on your PC at home. The service has become incredibly popular with international callers over the last few years.

Skype allows you to make video or voice calls over the internet free, if the receiver also has Skype. You can make one-off calls, or subscribe to the feature, which allows you unlimited international calling.

You can also find Skype apps on the Android Market and iPhone App Store, which let you make very cheap Skype-to-Skype calls over the internet via your smartphone.

Free Messenger apps

If you have a smartphone, such as the iPhone or an Android-based phone, then there are quite a few apps that let you send text messages - either internationally or locally - free of charge.

However, as with Skype, you can only send messages to other people who have the same app.

One of the most popular of these messenger apps is WhatsApp, which is available for iPhone, BlackBerry, Android and from Nokia's Ovi Store. WhatsApp lets you send text messages, images and video free to other WhatsApp users, across all smartphone platforms.

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